https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/jul/12/healthandwellbeing.lifeandhealthThe most deservedly happy place on the planet is the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, according to a radical new index published today.
The United Kingdom does not even make it into the top 100, according to the survey, which has been compiled to draw attention to the fact that it is not necessary to use up the earth's resources to achieve long life and happiness.
The innovative global measure of progress, the Happy Planet Index, has been constructed by the New Economics Foundation (Nef) and Friends of the Earth using three factors: life expectancy, human wellbeing and damage done via a country's "environmental footprint".
Vanuatu comes top because its people are satisfied with their lot, live to nearly 70 and do little damage to the planet. Zimbabwe takes bottom place in the table. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia, countries that have experienced recent civil upheavals, all feature in the top 10 on the grounds that they do little environmental harm and manage comparatively high levels of satisfaction with life.
The big industrial nations fare badly. The United Kingdom trails in 108th, below Libya, Gabon and Azerbaijan. The US is 150th and Russia is 172nd, near the bottom of the 178 nations for which statistics are available.
"Don't tell too many people, please," was the response of Marke Lowen of Vanuatu Online, the country's online newspaper, to the news that Vanuatu had topped the poll. "People are generally happy here because they are very satisfied with very little. This is not a consumer-driven society. Life here is about community and family and goodwill to other people. It's a place where you don't worry too much."
The small population of 200,000 and the lack of aggressive marketing in what is essentially a subsistence economy were other factors which might have elevated the country, formerly known as the New Hebrides, to its top dog status, Mr Lowen suggested yesterday.
"Most people here live day to day," he said. "The only things we fear are cyclones or occasional earthquakes." He added that people in Vanuatu considered themselves "caretakers" of the land.
The Happy Planet Index essentially divides the damage we do environmentally by the payback through life expectancy and satisfaction. No country does well on all three indicators but the survey shows that people can live long, fulfilled lives without using more than their fair share of the earth's resources, says the foundation.
"It is clear that no single nation listed in the Happy Planet Index has got everything right," said Nic Marks, head of Nef's centre for wellbeing. "But the index does reveal patterns that show how we might better achieve long and happy lives for all, whilst living within our environmental means. The challenge is - can we learn the lessons and apply them?"
The UK's heavy ecological footprint, the 18th biggest worldwide, is to blame for the country's low rating. Life satisfaction varies greatly from country to country: questioned on how satisfied they were with their lives, on a scale of one to 10, 29% of Zimbabweans, who have a life expectancy of 37, rate themselves at one and only 6% rate themselves at 10.
In contrast, 28% of Danes score their life-satisfaction at 10 out of 10 while fewer than 1% rate it at one. At the bottom of the index, above Zimbabwe, were three other African nations, Swaziland, Burundi and Congo.
Life expectancy also varies significantly. Japanese people can expect to live to 82, but Swazis to only 32. The real message, however, that the survey seeks to convey is that the environmental damage being done by the wealthier nations, presumably in the pursuit of happiness and long life, may have the opposite effect. Two factors are cited for the low showing of many countries: those recently adopting market economies and those badly affected by HIV/Aids do worst. Island nations score well above average in the index, with Malta leading the pack in the western world and Bahrain beating its fellow Gulf states, despite its high ecological footprint.
Last modified on 03/13/2021.